The nine-day Paris Fashion Week physi-digital show experience for Spring 2021 wrapped last week, albeit in an altered manner. Live presentations accounted for roughly fifty percent of the brand’s collection reveals. The current Coronavirus pandemic kept all but local retailers away – and even some of those chose to sit it out and watch online.
With common sense dictating no travel rules for buyers abroad, they experienced the shows virtually. I asked four retail executives: Roopal Patel, Fashion Director, Saks Fifth Avenue, Laure Heriard Debreuil founder of The Webster, Lisa Aiken, Moda Operandi’s Buying and Fashion Director, and Libby Paige, Net-A-Porter’s Senior Fashion Market Editor, their take on the season in Paris and what their racks and webpages will be stocking this Spring.
NOTHING BEATS IN PERSON Unanimously all agreed that not seeing and feeling the clothes live, especially in Paris, was negative.. Except for Paige, who saw a few key account appointments (CAN SHE NAME AND WHERE?), all retail execs watched the shows online.
“Not being able to see the clothes and feel the emotion can impact the way you feel about a collection,” said Paige acknowledging missing the atmosphere and mood, including the croissants! “As cliché as it sounds, they contribute to how we feel and help tell the story of what the industry is gravitating towards.”
On a professional level, Aiken missed the instant reaction to a show and product. “I miss the human interaction with our brand partners, editors, and stylists,” she added.
Debreuil noted the bizarre feeling of not attending shows and appointments in-person. “It was if I was skipping school!” She and her team paid extra attention to details. “Not seeing and feeling the styles in person was quite difficult; our buys and curation are inspired in these moments due to the sensorial experience,” Debreuil explained. Still, although she missed the energy of the live experience and ‘back-to-school’ excitement of seeing designers and colleagues that fashion shows give, an upshot is the added time at home with her kids.
Patel felt not seeing the collections in person this time left her with gratitude for the live shows she has attended over her 15-year plus career. “Nothing compares to attending live shows and seeing the clothes up close and personal. It is a unique experience,” she said, adding, “You can view a collection on your computer or phone, you cannot capture the magic and creative force a designer puts into a collection or experience the same level of connection. And if I feel that connection, I know our customers will feel it too.” She doesn’t miss the stress of a looming virus many experienced in the last collections in March this year.
One thing that doesn’t change when you experience the shows digitally are favorite shows. Paige, Aiken, and Debreuil cited Jonathan Anderson’s ‘Show-On-The-Wall’ for Loewe, whose elaborate invite included a kit to plaster a campaign poster to a wall among their favorites. Other highlights names were Chloe’s digital show format, which blended a live show and digital experience to create a street-style vibe, or Balenciaga’s models paraded through Paris streets at night singing along to a version of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” song. Marine Serre showed an otherworldly film called Amor Fati, which showed off its new crescent moon motif via a group of would-be followers to an androgynous protagonist.
Salvatore Ferragamo sent VR glasses to its digital show guest, allowing for a truly immersive experience that made the viewer feel like they were in the room. Paco Rabanne’s silver palette-covered circular runway and digital front row created an immersive global experience turning this small, limited event into a fashion moment that eclipsed the live presentation.
But there were some unexpected upshots with designers displaying the collections in a digital format, especially for those online-only retailers. Brands are impressively creative with the presentations, producing as much content, awareness, and intel,” she said about digital storytelling. “This is exactly how the Moda client shops, so it gives good context to the online experience.”
Paige agreed. “It has allowed us to truly see the brands that are creative and able to stand out during this time,” she said, adding, “It gives us clarity to see the product digitally and how it will work with our online shopper.”
SPRING 2021: WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT
Most retailers agree that once Spring 2021 hits the selling floor or website, things aren’t going back to ‘normal’ just yet. “I think this shift will shape the way we approach clothes for a long time,” said Paige. She has noticed themes of escapism and joy in the collections and reality-based dressing such as luxurious spring sweater sets, relaxed tailoring, and denim such as Balenciaga and Valentino x Levi’s.
“With this increased time spent at home, our customers are looking for pieces that are both versatile, yet functional that embrace this new relaxed attitude and smart-casual dressing,” said Paige.
Aiken says the Moda Operandi woman loves getting dressed for special events but notes, “Obviously, for 2020, much of that has been put on hold.” That still doesn’t rule out outdoors gathering, and Aiken observed that Spring 2021 has a feminine side with A-line skirts, dainty tops, and lady-like shoes all in soft pastel colors. If she is spending more time at home, the “Moda client likes to get dressed in the morning.” Emphasizing comfort while maintaining femininity and individuality, their customer has traded the blazer for an oversized cardigan.
“It’s the new hero piece is the cardigan, she can’t get enough of them,” citing Khaite’s cardigan and bralette, Jacquemus’ shrunken cardigan or a traditional style from Brock Collection as the best-sellers.
Debreuil says her client is veering towards luxurious loungewear and an athletic aesthetic. Her client has been gravitating towards chic cozy dresses, bra tops, and glam sweatsuits. Strong spring trends were cut-out details, lace details, bold prints, and cotton-candy colors. “We are optimistic about the idea of “back-to-normal” dressing. Still, We believe in the new normal,” noting their buys focused on a variety of styles and the season’s stand-out pieces. “We have learned a lot about our clients during this fall season and how they approach shopping at this time, beneficial when writing this season’s orders, she added noting, “They are purchasing investment and staple pieces with good value and quality.” Through her E-comm CONSCIOUS section, she has watched clients take a greater interest in sustainability as well.
Debreuil sees the industry right now as half- full. “The positive outcome of 2020 is seeing our industry taking steps to implement and create change in areas such as racial equality, body positivity, sustainability, as well as politically.”
The season had an unexpected outcome for Patel. “Pleasantly, we were surprised to see that Spring 2021 was not as casual as we had anticipated,” she said, noting there was still plenty of room for what she dubs, “ladies who lounge.” For Saks, this translates to a luxurious and versatile take on casualwear with elevated caftans, tunics, robes, and pajama dressing. Easy-breezy dresses in an array of colors, relaxed tailoring focusing on oversized blazers, bra tops, bike shorts, denim, crochet, and lace emerged as key trends for the tony retailer. Of course, there is also the Zoom effect, which calls for vibrant tops, statement earrings, and bold lip colors as a focal point.
Beyond stocking seasonal trends, Saks is focused on addressing the customers’ needs during an unprecedented time through added services. Saks by Appointment allows customers to book a private time slot before or after the store opens to shop or try Virtual Shopping to enable them to visit locations such as Saks Boston for a video conferencing Appointment with a ‘style advisor.’ Saks at Home flips the scenario and sends a style expert to the clients’ Home with select merchandise to consult on a closet cleanout of styling session. Lastly, Try Before You Buy, an invitation-only service that sends select pieces to clients’ homes. Customers are charged for what they keep, and Saks picks up the remaining stock.